14 Biennale di Venezia. French Pavilion
Modernity: promise or menace?
Curated by Jean Louis Cohen.
The architect and historian Jean-Louis Cohen, curator of the French Pavilion, proposes a critical appraisal of the direction taken by French architecture towards modernity in response to the theme proposed by Rem Koolhas, director of this 14th Exhibition under the double rubrics of the fundamental principles of architecture and the national appropriations of an otherwise homogenizing modernity.
“(…) The French Pavilion proposes to highlight several contradictions that marked the invention of modern architecture and its deployment in response to society’s expectations. Modernity was first of all a promise: of rational and affordable housing and salubrious cities, (…) as well as a promise of exhilarating inventions, such as Jean Prouvé’s lightweight structures. Beginning in the 1930’s, a combination of massive public intervention and fertile technical invention that was specific to France led to the development of experimental solutions. But after 1950, this same productive configuration produced a series of segregated and monotonous ensembles, whose defects were further aggravated by the economic crisis. As a result modern architecture came also to embody the menace of an existence dominated by machines and their repetitive production.” Jean-Louis Cohen
An exhibition, a film, and a book: three material supports to illustrate Jean-Louis Cohen’s thesis.
In each of the four galleries of the French Pavilion, Jean-Louis Cohen examines a condition or a project that exemplifies both hope and disappointment: Jacques Tati’s film Mon Oncle, Jean Prouvé’s lecture series, the heavy prefabricated panels of Raymond Camus, and the housing program at Drancy. A display of objects in three dimensions, including scale models as well as full-size mockups, accompanied by analytic commentary in wall texts and images, engages these four specific and contradictory episodes and relates them to four general themes.
Created by Teri Wehn Damisch, the film, projected in all four galleries, restores the visual and auditory colors of the episodes that are presented, illustrating the epic scale of the historical episodes, and including excerpts of news reels, propaganda films and fiction movies.
As a complement to the exhibit, the book entitled “Modernity in France: promise or menace? 101 buildings 1914-2014” is published by Dominique Carré Editions. It contains presentations and analysis of 101 representative buildings that illustrate the continuities and breaks in the French architecture of the 20th century.